Trembling With Fear 10/30/2022
Hello, children of the dark. It’s our time now. It’s the night before All Hallow’s Eve, before Samhain, before the veil is at its thinnest and we can cross between worlds, speak to the dead. It’s our time, the dark time.
Truth be told, it’s all still a bit new to me. Growing up in Australia in the 1980s, we never *did* Halloween. Every so often someone would put on a BBQ and we’d get a bit dressed up, but there was no trick or treating, there was no decorating the house, there was nothing like what we see all over the world today. But I still paid attention. I still knew it was a special time.
I was clearly just waiting to be able to adult my way through the dark festive season.
That said, it’s not like I really do anything to celebrate these days either; old habits die hard. What you see in the movies, what pop culture considers Halloween, I’ve found to be a rather American tradition. In my part of south London, we generally don’t decorate the house, and that hour when the local kids knock on the door is a chore rather than something fun. Yes, I’m an official Grumpy Old Woman in that regard.
But then, Halloween isn’t a once-a-year thing for me. I embrace the darkness all year round. My writing desk is covered in trinkets I’ve bought in the supermarket’s seasonal aisle every October; my clothing is adorned with ghosts and bats and skulls at the best of times. I tried to hide this side of me for a really long time; I tried to conform, to avoid black clothes, to gravitate away from my spooky self. Ironically, it was being locked in the house during the pandemic that really gave me the confidence to unleash my inner weirdo and let her go wild.
This Halloween, embrace your darkness, and remember the immortal words of Nancy from The Craft: We are the weirdos, mister.
Pop on your witch’s hat and prepare for this week’s TWF tasting menu. Our Halloween special is coming, too – it’s a separate beast!
Our trembling main course from Hana S Elysia warns of the dangers of thievery. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Rachel L Tilley messes with the fabric of creation
- Jessica Gleason strolls through an airport terminal, and
- Christina Nordlander examines a fungal infection
If these stories inspire you to get writing, you’ll find details on how to submit to us over here on our freshly-updated submission guidelines page. Remember, we’re currently CLOSED to short story submissions, but are always seeking drabbles – that’s a complete story in exactly 100 words, and a real test of your craft.
For now, it’s over to you, Stuart…
With the new layout being delayed until next year, this is just a reminder that if there are any changes that YOU have been hoping to see, please reach out on our contact page!
What kind of changes is minor enough to look into adding? We’ll probably add a few more ways to subscribe to our newsletter in areas around the site. I’d also be looking to do simple yet streamlined things, such as last week’s announcement that the Trembling With Fear Submission Page now has the submission form directly on it. If there are things that would help you navigate the site easier, please, do reach out!
As always, I hope you had a great weekend.
Lesson of Thieves, by Hana S. Elysia
Four thieves planned to rob a house on the beach. It was isolated, at the end of a stretch of sand that ran along the only road, with teal shingles and a white fence out front. No one had come or gone for three days. Four thieves went in.
And only one made it out.
The survivor would learn the most important lessons of their life that night. They would write them down to hang in a frame of fanned shells, similar to the motivations that adorned other homes, and would claim to their loved ones that these lessons were serene teachings realized over a lifetime. But that was a lie.
Takahashi was the first to enter. He was the youngest of the black-clad group, the lockpick. He was also the first to set foot in the dining room, and the smell hit him so hard that he gagged and stumbled backwards. There were no signs of a struggle, which might’ve scattered the shell decor all over the floor if there had been. Instead what the thieves saw was oddly neat. Equal to the number of intruders were the four corpses of the family who lived there. The mother, father, daughter, and son sat rigidly in their seats at the table, a fork and knife in each hand. Upon their plates were their heads.
“My god,” Abimbola said, “what happened here? Go. We have to go.” He was the oldest of the group, the schemer. His name meant “born with wealth,” but obviously that was not the case. He hurried them over to the back door they had come through. “Open it, Uli!” he snapped at the second oldest, the driver, who struggled to unlock the curved brass handle.
“I can’t,” she said, “it won’t budge!” She threw off her leather gloves and turned the knob again, thudding her thin shoulder against the panel as sweat beaded her forehead.
When they attempted the same to the other doors, that didn’t work either. Not even the second youngest, the muscle, could get them open. The veins on his arms bulged as he resorted to pulling up one of the windows. It wouldn’t slide. He slammed at the glass with an elbow. It wouldn’t break.
“Upstairs,” Francisco said. He panted from the effort. “Let’s try upstairs.”
So upstairs they went. The buzzing of flies and ticking of a clock followed, permeating the dark space like echoes in a cube.
They checked the son’s room. The only window there was the same, and refused the tug of their fingers as animal stickers danced along the sill.
They checked the kids’ bathroom. The only way out was too high and too small, a slot above the tub with a fastener rusted in place.
They checked the daughter’s room. Two windows this time. One like all the others, a stubborn rectangle of glass, and the other a painted circle that they stared at on the wall.
Francisco locked the door behind them in the master bedroom. “Something won’t let us leave,” he whispered. He clutched the cross on his necklace, fingers fiddling with superstition. “Whatever did this is still here.”
“What do you mean something?” Takahashi asked.
“You know what. That black paint in the girl’s room, it looked like a sigil.” His looming height shrank. “A summoning circle.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Uli said. She crossed her skinny arms. “No demon is going to come crawling through the wallpaper.”
“Aren’t girls just into that sort of thing?” Takahashi looked at Uli for confirmation. “Witchcraft? Potions and crystals?”
Her expression went flat. She turned her attention to Abimbola. “What should we do?”
The old man didn’t know. But he refused to be another victim. He’d refused many things in life, so he’d refuse death too. Abimbola cleared his throat.
“We’ll try the exits downstairs again,” he said. “We can head through the living area so we don’t have to see—” His gaze drifted to the doorway. The one that was supposed to be shut.
The one where the headless father now stood.
Nobody moved. Their eyes were wide, lips tight, as if letting loose a single breath would spur something into motion. And here was lesson number one: cherish silence, because silence is hard to obtain. They covered their mouths and inched away in separate directions as the corpse father staggered onto the carpet. He no longer had ears but they knew he could sense them, his bloated hands hovering out in front as he came closer and closer, until Francisco broke lesson number one with a muffled whimper—and paid dearly for it. Not even a scream had the chance to escape him as he was caught by a rotting grip, and the other thieves bolted from the room to descend the staircase.
Blocking their way was the corpse son.
His nails scrabbled against the wood as he paced back and forth at the bottom of the stairs like a skittering dog. And here was lesson number two, already thrust upon them: always choose compassion, even if it’s harder to choose. Uli broke this lesson in her panic as she raised her hands to push Takahashi down the steps, but despite his naive age, Takahashi was no fool. He dodged Uli’s shove and used her momentum against her, sending her tumbling down the stairs into an unfortunate fate. With an extended hand to Abimbola, the two men then skirted for the living area, Uli’s warbled shrieks at their heels.
Here they would find lesson number three in quick succession: never lose faith in your spirit. In the breaking of this third lesson, whether out of ego or fear, one could easily be misled. And that is what happened to Takahashi as he became slack, hypnotized into the open arms of the corpse mother. Abimbola’s pleas to him went unheard as Takahashi climbed over the couch to reach her. He laid his head upon her chest and she stroked his hair with bloated fingers, embraced him as she squeezed and squeezed and squeezed—
His way to the front door compromised, Abimbola scrambled to the back door. There the corpse daughter waited for him, perched on a counter in her pretty yellow sundress. Tilted on her lap was her head.
She spoke in a singing tune, “Abimbola Abimbola! That rolls off the tongue.”
The remaining thief froze. Then, “What are you?” he asked. “Why are you doing this?”
Her stub of a neck cocked to the side. “Why? I was asked to.” She pointed to herself. “This one brought me here. Wanted to eat dinner with her family, spend more time with them. So that’s what I gave her.”
Abimbola inhaled. “Francisco was right. You’re a demon.”
“I’m the demon.” Without so much as a touch, the back door creaked open. “Did you learn your lesson, human?” A pat on the knee. “This one certainly did.” Her cloudy eyes stuck to Abimbola as he cautiously crossed the threshold, not a single stolen item on him.
He held her stare as one foot thumped onto the porch. Then the other.
The corpse daughter smiled. “Be a good boy now.”
And the door clicked shut in his face.
Later, as he walked down the empty road, the girl’s teasing voice wisped at his ears.
“Cherish silence, because silence is hard to obtain.”
His feet ached, cheeks dried by more than just the salty sea.
“Always choose compassion, even if it’s harder to choose.”
He muttered to himself as the sun bled hazy over the horizon.
“Never lose faith in your spirit.”
Four thieves planned to rob a house on the beach.
Hana S. Elysia
Hana S. Elysia is a graduate of San Diego State University and a San Diego native. Though fairly new to the world of creative writing, she aspires to pursue it as an artistic career where she can pair her own artwork alongside future publications. A massive fan of the horror genre, she also hopes to someday write a fantastical series of novels that immerse and inspire readers who seek a second home.
Darker than usual, the small terminal felt still. There were no babies crying, no weary passengers shuffling around, just an enveloping quiet, sucking air from the room.
Looking out into the sparsely occupied seats, Petra noticed blurred faces where sharp features should have been; babies with no mouths, mothers with no eyes, all sitting, stationary, save their very shallow breathing. Though these unfortunate souls were faceless, they seemed entranced by an unseen and oppressive force.
Never having been spiritual, Petra did not pray nor did she run for help. Opening her mouth wide, she screamed, but only static came out.
Jessica Gleason is an author, poet, and visual artist muddling her way through life. Gleason is a writing professor who enjoys wearing Star Trek uniforms and singing a mean hair metal karaoke. Her short poetry collection, Sundown on this Town, is available from Popcorn Press. Hey most recent with can be found in Hear Us Scream: The Voices of Horror Vol. 2.
Comfortable, nestled within their vacuum – a silent, empty space, devoid of soul – a flicker invaded.
They tried to scratch the itch, but the fragment of light evaded their grasp.
Frustrated, they reached a little further. To no avail.
Yet the game of cat and mouse was in motion.
Across the eons, they had forgotten their purpose; their nature as the fabric of creation.
As they distended – stretched, in continuation of their pursuit – the universe began to fold inwards.
Realizing, they ceased the chase; they attempted to put things right. But, by then, the chain of events had begun.
Rachel L. Tilley
Rachel L. Tilley writes short stories in the fantasy and horror genres. @rachelltilley on Twitter.
I got a white patch of some fungal infection on my tongue, in that environment where everything is wet. It grows up in fibres that come off easily when I pinch them, but there is always a yellowish-white ground underneath, and I can’t scrape it without taking the thin skin of my tongue with it.
I was recommended an anti-fungal cream. It controls the patch, but never manages to kill it.
The fungus has no flavour, but I’m always aware of how many fine fibres must disappear down my throat, even when I sleep.
I don’t get as hungry now.
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Lauren McMenemy wears many hats: Editor-in-Chief at Trembling With Fear for horrortree.com; PR and marketing for the British Fantasy Society; founder of the Society of Ink Slingers; curator of the Writing the Occult virtual events; writers hour host at London Writers Salon. With 25+ years as a professional writer across journalism, marketing, and communications, Lauren also works as a coach and mentor to writers looking to achieve goals, get accountability, or get support with their marketing efforts. She writes gothic and folk horror stories for her own amusement, and is currently working on a novel set in the world of the Victorian occult. You’ll find Lauren haunting south London, where she lives with her Doctor Who-obsessed husband, the ghost of their aged black house rabbit, and the entity that lives in the walls.